I enjoy reflecting on the true stories behind the sketches we get in scripture of the biblical women. For me, fleshing out their stories is as valid a way of interpreting scripture as any other, and in fact follows the ancient Jewish tradition of midrash (the retelling of a biblical story to make a moral point). Here's my version of the Mary Magdalene story, originally published in the Brockville Voice and in New Catholic Times. It's not the Da Vinci code, just a reflection on God's love for humanity:
Before dawn Mary strides through the garden, searching for the cave, the tomb, while the gardener stands motionless, waiting for her. The chill of Judean nights gives no hint of the warmth of Judean days. Only his eyes travel, while her feet stumble on the path.
They told her not to come, those so-called friends, those disciples of his. They told her not to risk it. But she will not be denied. Not now. Not ever.
It takes an eternity to find the cave with a flickering candle. And the jars full of oil to anoint the dead weigh heavily in her arms. She presses on until at last a deeper dark rises before her, a cleft where there should be rock.
Someone has moved the entrance stone to the tomb. She is grateful. She leans gingerly into the hole, dreading and hoping, and light dances against rock. She steps closer, then gasps. The shadow of a crumpled linen trembles in the candlelight.
She finds the cave empty, silent, abandoned.
He is not there. There is no one, nothing, just a gaping emptiness in the rock and in her heart. How can this be?
Mary bows her head. It isn’t possible. It has been so hard; the hope shattered by his death, her own new beginning cut off, ending as he took a last struggling breath on that monstrosity of wood. She allows her tears to fall, disappearing into the darkness at her feet.
Time passes, silent, endless in the loneliness of the cave.
At last she places her hand on the cool stone, and feels courage flow towards her from the yawning hole behind. A vestige left from him perhaps. Or a gift from an angel.
She raises her head, strengthens her resolve. She will not allow this to be the end, nor concede this moment to defeat. Freed by his hand of seven demons, her heart will no longer be contained. She has already won this battle for her soul.
She thinks, breathes deeply, remembers his words: “Seek and ye shall find, ask and it shall be given to you”. She deposits the now useless jars of oil, senses the new lightness in her arms, the freedom to move, and peers into the darkness of the garden.
There was a presence hiding out there earlier, a shade hidden in the trees. The gardener. She turns and moves back along the path, pushing aside bushes, scrambling through hedges. Where is that gardener? Where is that man?
He waits while she struggles.
It never occurs to her to walk away, that the search may be futile. The seeking itself creates a strange alchemy; it builds her strength, turns sorrow to anger, transforms grief to fire. And when the fire is burning like a watch fire in the night, when it is flaming in her belly like a sacrificial pyre, he is before her, rising out of the mist, surfacing from her dreams, this gardener, this keeper of God’s creation, this caregiver of fragile earth.
She cries, she demands, “Why have they stolen him? Where have they taken him? What have you done to him?”
For a moment, there, in the greyness of rising dawn, he says nothing, savouring this instant, delaying this hoped for resolution, which for three days has kept him from infinity, held him back from the temptation of nothingness, the escape from a beloved but ungrateful humanity, an adored but uncaring world.
Now, humanity has come to him after all, he who was beaten, dead, and lost. Here stands the evidence of faith, the meaning of resurrection, the revelation of God, the hope of all tomorrows.
He breathes softly the word on his heart, in his soul, to this faithful disciple: “Mary.”
And she knows. She understands. Even before the first rays of sun break across the horizon, even before the first bird launches into song, even before the first waft of heat and light hit his face, she knows. The later storytellers will tell how she collapsed before him, how she called him ‘Teacher’. But for an atomic measure of time, an eternity of existence, seeker stood before sought, God stood before mortal, and hope bound itself to love in one enduring embrace.